Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: A first-rate smartwatch

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic on the wrist.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: A first-rate smartwatch

MSRP $349.99

“The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is a seriously capable smartwatch with comprehensive health-tracking features, slick One Watch UI software, and a mature, classy design that feels great on your wrist.”

Pros

  • Cohesive, mature design
  • Rotating bezel is intuitive
  • One Watch UI is neat and logical
  • Comprehensive health tracking
  • Choice of style and size

Cons

  • Battery doesn’t last two full days
  • Wear OS 3 software lacks polish
  • Too large to wear at night

Does the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic have what it takes to top our list of the best Android smartwatches? After all, its predecessor, the Galaxy Watch 3, has done so since its release, meaning we have high expectations. Making the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic’s already hard job even tougher is that it also has to introduce us to a new operating system at the same time as wowing us with its hardware.

Just by looking at the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, it’s obvious Samsung has done its job on the design, but what about the new Wear OS 3 software? There’s a lot to go through here, but don’t worry, this is a feature-packed smartwatch worthy of both your attention and your money.

Design

At first glance, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic doesn’t look that different from the Galaxy Watch 3, but examine it more closely and there are subtle refinements that give the new model a more cohesive, mature, and watch-like style. The stainless steel case itself comes in either 42mm or 46mm sizes, and I am wearing the 46mm model on my 6.5-inch wrist. It weighs 52 grams without the strap.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The ridges on the bezel are smaller and more tightly packed than on the Galaxy Watch 3, the chronograph markings are more subtle, and the lugs flow more directly from the case itself. It’s this, along with the strap and the buttons, that marks the largest design change. The buttons are oblong, more flush to the case, and therefore are less noticeable, but still separated by a button guard for a clean look.

The strap changes the watch the most, due to the ends matching the curve of the case and flowing lines of the lugs. It works really well, making the strap appear to be an integral part of the watch case, plus the shape stops it from bending too far in either direction, helping it sit better on your wrist. Technically it’s a small design change, but an inspired one that really boosts the watch’s comfort and visual appeal. However, if you change the strap for a non-Samsung version, you’ll lose this benefit.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

At 52 grams, the Watch 4 Classic is quite heavy, and you are almost always aware of it on your wrist. This stopped me wearing it overnight for sleep tracking — it was just too noticeable and I found it distracting while trying to fall asleep. The 42mm version isn’t much lighter at 47 grams, and both are significantly heavier than the 37-gram, aluminum-bodied 44mm Apple Watch Series 6.

Despite this, I haven’t found the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic fatiguing to wear during the day, and I really love the balanced, classy, and distinctive design.

Software

The hardware is excellent, but the big change with the Watch 4 is the software. Gone is Samsung’s Tizen from the Galaxy Watch 3, and in comes the joint Google and Samsung platform called Wear OS 3, or simply Wear. Tizen was always the better piece of software compared to old Wear OS, and it made the Galaxy Watch 3 our top Android smartwatch recommendation due to its ease of use, design, and reliability. The concern with the new software for me was, how much of Tizen remains, or has Wear overtaken it completely?

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The good news is Tizen’s superior design and usability remains through Samsung’s One Watch UI. Wear OS 3 lets companies use a custom user interface, avoiding all new watches looking basically the same as each other. The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic has a rotating bezel that helps greatly with navigation. You turn it to the left to view notifications and to the right to see Tiles. Swipe up on the touchscreen to find the app menu, and down for quick settings, then use the bezel to scroll left and right through all the options presented. It’s fluid, natural, fast, and surprisingly enjoyable. The rotating bezel has a very precise action with lovely dampening, and a neat “notchy” feel as it turns.

You should spend a few moments digging through the settings to personalize the way your watch works, as raise to wake isn’t activated by default, meaning you have to tap the screen or turn the bezel to wake the display. This is annoying when an app is running and the screen times out. An always-on screen can be switched on, so the watch always shows the time. There are a lot of watch faces to choose from, ranging from the very simple to the very cute, and all have custom ambient modes.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It all feels very similar to Tizen on the Galaxy Watch 3 at first, but Wear uses a clearer font that, when paired with the pin-sharp screen — a 1.4-inch 450 x 450 pixel Super AMOLED on the 46mm, or a 1.2-inch 396 x 396 pixel Super AMOLED on the 42mm — makes everything easy to read. I never need to squint at the screen, and the choice of font is more mature than Tizen’s. The most obvious change happens when you swipe up on the screen and find a list of apps that includes the Google Play Store.

Android apps for Wear OS work on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, unlike on the Tizen-powered Galaxy Watch 3, and that includes Google apps missing from old Samsung watches like Google Maps, Google Fit, and Google Pay. Google Pay works normally and you can select either it or Samsung Pay as the default contactless payment system under the NFC setting. Google Fit works alongside Samsung Health, but it’s not immediately obvious how, or if, it can be set as the default.

There are times where Wear OS 3 shows it is still a work in progress, but a small software update arrived during my review that also showed Google and Samsung are working to fix any issues. Initially, Google Maps loaded as usual, but it was hit-or-miss whether you could scroll around the map on the screen, and routes only showed in text form. Both these problems were fixed after the update. However, some apps are still shaky, with Spotify often timing out, leaving me staring at a spinning progress indicator.

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Many apps are available through Google Play, including common examples like Spotify and Outlook, but not YouTube Music or Uber. It doesn’t appear Google Assistant is available either as an app to install or as an onboard alternative to Bixby. Notifications are pretty and interactive when they do turn up, but there’s no guarantee of arrival, a problem from the old Wear OS that has sadly carried over into new Wear. However, notifications are grouped together in Tiles, are properly formatted, easy to read, and when you dismiss one on the watch, it disappears on your phone.

On a day-to-day basis, so far, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with Wear OS 3 has been excellent, although it is an unusual mashup of Wear OS and Tizen. You get the good looks and the sensible navigation provided by One Watch UI and the rotating bezel, plus the frustration of unreliable notifications and apps that don’t quite work properly all the time from Wear OS, along with plenty of duplicate services. Because Wear will look different on other smartwatches running the software (when they arrive), much of what makes it work well here may come down to Samsung’s One Watch UI, but we won’t know for sure until a challenger arrives in the future.

Health tracking

The health and fitness tracking on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is comprehensive, detailed, easy to use, and packed with features. The Samsung BioActive sensor is the standout new hardware addition to the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. The 3-in-1 sensor incorporates a Bio-Electrical Impedance (BIA) sensor, an Electrocardiogram (ECG), and a PPG heart rate sensor, all powered by new software algorithms.

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